Not all children make it to the Students and Children’s Palace for its wide range of fun extra curriculum activities. Many, the non-elite, are forced engage in less fun extra curriculum activities (assuming they go to school at all). For city children this frequently appears to mean sweeping the streets and other public areas. While these children, tidying up around Kim Il-sung’s statue on Mount Janam seemed perfectly happy to engage with us and have their photos taken it wasn’t long until we were told by our guide to desist from taking photos of the kids (clearly from less well to do families) as we were frightening and upsetting them!
As a general rule you are not permitted to take photographs of anything that could paint North Korea in a poor light.
Image and perception are important in North Korea and while they try hard to protect their image they are also quick to jump on anything which tarnishes the image of their number one enemy, the United States. This leads to some rather crazy situations one of which, related to what has become a de facto dress code for visiting the Demilitarised Zone (along the border with South Korea), I will relate here.
While we could wear anything we liked when we visited the DMZ, visitors from the south are required to be smartly dressed and, in particular, no ripped jeans, torn t-shirts and the like are permitted.
You would have imagined it would have been the other way round and, as such, the reason for this dress code for southern visitors may surprise you.
Apparently when more casual attire was permitted the North Korean soldiers would photograph visitors in their ripped jeans and torn t-shirts and broadcast the images within North Korea as evidence of the impoverished state existing in the US, and outside North Korea generally, such that people were destitute and could not even afford basic clothes.
I trust, Dear Reader, that you will not assume, based on my pictures here that all children in North Korea sweep the street. Most assuredly some do not!
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my visit to Kaesong, North Korea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Kaesong Folk Custom Hotel: ‘Traditional Korean Hotel’ – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – North Korea’s win from the Korean War.